Over 50 New Haven residents and Yale affiliates gathered in the Yale Law School on Monday night to discuss immigrant and worker rights as part of the final installment of the Yale and New Haven Discussion Series.
The event, titled “Local Activism in the Trump Age: Protect Immigrant and Worker Rights,” began with a panel and then opened into a group discussion. Panelists included Fatima Rojas of Unidad Latina en Acción, Ana Maria Rivera-Forastieri of JUNTA for Progressive Action, Rev. James Manship of St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church and Michael Wishnie ’87 LAW ’93 of the Law School. Monday’s discussion, the fourth and final one in the series for this academic year, centered on current activism in New Haven and the role allies can play in the efforts to resist President Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant policy.
“[Trump] has really created this heightened anxiety and depression in our community,” Rivera-Forastieri said. “[This] is something I have never seen before.”
During the panel, Rivera-Forastieri said many allies have come forward since November’s election to help, but that at times the outpouring of support can be overwhelming. Some have ended up creating more work for immigrant advocacy groups, who have to reply to emails and keep track of the new volunteers, she added.
She asked that allies be patient and understand that JUNTA does not have time to return every phone call and email immediately. She also warned against co-opting experiences and narratives. For example, she said the “good immigrant versus bad immigrant” paradigm is problematic because it creates divides within the immigrant community.
Rojas pointed out that current immigration policy has had the positive effect of bringing people of different backgrounds together. Emphasizing that undocumented immigrants, regardless of their race, gender or sexual orientation are currently under attack, Rojas said that the new policies are forcing communities to unite and engage in dialogue with one another.
“As long as we are doing something, picking up the phone, going to marches, protests, events — we’re moving in the right direction,” Rojas said.
Contrary to the traditionally non-political stance that some churches take, Manship highlighted that it is impossible to enact any kind of change if religious groups decide not to engage with political realities, and instead focus solely on their spirituality. Referencing Pope Francis, he said that involvement in legislation, advocacy and the world beyond the Church’s four walls is paramount.
Wishnie, a Law School professor who runs clinics with ULA and JUNTA, said members of his clinic use their skills to enact change as directed by the immigrant advocates they work alongside.
He said one concrete action every attendee could take is to sign up for one of New Haven’s municipal identification cards. The IDs, which were created in 2007, allow undocumented residents to acquire a form of documentation. If more people sign up for the cards, he said, it will be harder for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers to use them to track undocumented immigrants in New Haven.
Of concern to some at the event was that Yale affiliates comprised the majority of the audience. Justin Farmer, a student at Southern Connecticut State University, suggested hosting discussions off campus to increase diversity and encourage more New Haven residents to attend.
The Yale and New Haven Discussions Series hosted three other panels this academic year, all of which took place last semester.